Hey everyone! I hope this blog post finds you all doing well. Last week I published a blog post talking about why I haven’t been posting anything. I also mentioned that one of my next posts was going to be about executive function so here it is… the topic a lot of you have been waiting for.
I’ll start out by explaining exactly what executive function is. Executive function is the cognitive processes that help regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions. The aspects of executive function includes planning, problem solving, working memory, attention, verbal reasoning, initiation, self control, cognitive flexibility, and monitoring. Still confused? Let me elaborate and break it down for you, since that’s what helps me understand things better. Always be specific with me…
Planning is being able to think and come up with the order or steps of how a goal or task will be achieved. It’s the ability to compartmentalize tasks into completable sections which can be hard for some autistic people. I personally don’t struggle with this aspect. I’m a very deep thinker and over analyze everything which makes my planning very detail oriented.
The ability to identify a problem and think of a strategy to solve the problem. Problem solving uses almost all the aspects of executive functions. So depending on which aspect you struggle with, it can affect your ability to effectively problem solve.
A lot of autistic people struggle with memory. My short term memory is completely off. I can script a whole movie or TV show or memorize a song after listening to a twice. But I can’t remember to eat when I’m supposed to or take my medications on time. I also struggle with memorizing tasks if there’s too many steps which then can lead to incompletion of the task.
Attention works hand in hand with working memory. I am able to focus very deeply on something but what I struggle with is shifting my focus on to whatever it needs to be on. Change is hard for me. If I’m in the middle of crafting, which is my biggest special interest, then it’s almost impossible to direct my focus on to chores or anything else. It’s also hard to keep my attention on something particular when I’m trying so hard to regulate all the sensory input around me. Things as simple as too much light or too much background noise at one time can be enough to distract me from a task that needs my full attention. Then I go into sensory overload which then completely shifts everything and then I spend the rest of the day trying to erase the bad input and replacing it with good input. If I wasn’t able to focus on something, then that information wasn’t retained which then means my short term memory won’t recall it at all.
It’s the ability to understand concepts presented in words and relay them back. This can be hard for me because I do not do well with verbal or social cues. I take things very literally which can hinder my ability to reason. I also have times I go non verbal under severe sensory overload so therefore can’t relay anything back verbally.
Initiation is the ability to start a task. It has nothing to do with desire. I struggle with this heavily. I may want to do chores, play a game or run an errand. But unless the task is initiated by someone else, it doesn’t happen most of the time.
The ability to have emotional, cognitive or physical reactions controlled in that moment. That’s very challenging for me because have a hard time regulating emotions and sensory input, which causes me to stim. If I end up overstimulated trying to download and process all the information, it can lead to outbursts or meltdowns. I can’t help it and sometimes my impulse control isn’t enough to participate in a structured situation.
It’s the ability to just go with the flow. Change is very hard for me. I can function best when there is predictability and routine.
So, let’s say you’re walking. Only small part of your brain is engaged in walking because you already know how to walk. The monitoring part of your brain kicks in and keeps you from bumping into things and walking right into traffic. When autistic people are overstimulated, their brains suddenly have issues with monitoring basic tasks which can lead to them unintentionally doing dangerous things.
It’s very important to understand that not all autistic people struggle with all the same aspects. Each individual has different struggles. Also, executive function issues isn’t even only an autistic struggle. People with ADHD and other conditions can also struggle with it. I’m only focused on autism specifically because I’m autistic and wanted to explain my personal experience.
My family used to always call me “lazy”. I really wish people could understand that I don’t intentionally do these things. I’m not lazy! Laziness is intentional. I actually want to do a task but I just can not initiate it myself without there being an external stimulus to prompt me. I want to focus but I simply can’t. I don’t purposely act without thinking or make careless mistakes when doing basic tasks. I simply have a hard time monitoring when I’m overstimulated. Now this doesn’t mean I can’t function at all. When I get the proper accommodations and assistance, I am able to function well. When I’m not overstimulated, I’m more likely to reach my full potential. Autism is not what disables me, it’s my environment. If we lived in a more sensory friendly world where everyone truly accepted autism and people accommodated all autistic people regardless of their level of support needs, then we wouldn’t have so many “deficits”.
I hope you learned something from this blog post. If you think you know someone who absolutely needs to read this, then please feel free to share this with them. We shouldn’t have to tolerate people putting us down for being “lazy” when laziness isn’t even what it is. The first step to acceptance is knowledge and being informed. Thank you for reading!